Thursday, December 22, 2022

Millennium Season 2: Episode 17 "Siren"

Directed by Allen Coulter

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Air Date: March 20, 1998

Guest Star: Vivian Wu (Tamara Shui Fa Lee)

"Siren" explores some areas the show had not explored up to that point, but the plot takes a turn towards well worn territory in the journey of Frank Black, protagonist of the series.

The cold open is set aboard a cargo ship bound for Seattle that's smuggling people fleeing from China. Customs officials inspect the ship and find a woman chained in the cargo area, a woman the captain blames for several deaths onboard on the ship. Later on at the hospital, Jordan spots the young woman and informs Catherine the woman may help Frank at some point. Once informed, Frank and Lara begin to investigate mysterious occurrences aboard the ship.

In a brief exchange, Lara muses on the sacrifices and risks many take in coming to the United States, Frank observes "humans are drawn towards the light." If the 1990s was the Pax Americana, a period when immigration rates continued to rise, I feel like there was an opportunity explore the idea further. The episode never goes into xenophobic territory, the theme of immigration and changing American identity during the 1990s, gets set aside in favor of Frank's narrative.

Unable to discover any useful leads to the woman's identity, Frank questions her at the hospital. She speaks English and seems to know everything about Frank's past. After leaving, Frank sees her on the highway and stops his car, but notices she's vanished. Then in what turns out to be visions, Frank imagines an alternate life when he's reconciled with Catherine and not associated with the group, a vision that ends with a terrifying image. Many make comparisons to It's a Wonderful Life, but The Last Temptation of Christ also comes to mind. 

Frank's frequent agonizing over whether he's doing what's right for his family has been a sustaining theme, but here it starts to feel a bit repetitive. An uneven entry, but worth watching for Frank's vision of an alternate reality. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Millennium Season 2: Episode 16 "Roosters"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Air Date: March 13, 1998

Guest Star: R. G. Armstrong (The Old Man); Phillip Baker Hall (Group Elder)

"Roosters" picks up right after "Owls" and while remarkably plot heavy for a one-hour network TV show, it moves with confidence towards a satisfying conclusion. 

Secular vs religious worldviews are a main theme, partly causing the division from within the group. We learn the secularists are convinced an "astronomical event" in the mid-21st Century will destroy the planet. We also learn the group is privy to technological advancement long before the public becomes aware. In addition to the eschatology and secrecy, the Nazi element introduced in "Owls" is revealed to be a "third party" remnant of the Odessa Group, the alleged group of ex-Nazis who gathered after Germany's defeat, who are working to divide the group. There's a lot to process!

Where is Frank Black in all this? Alienated from the group for good reason, he discovers Catherine's new employer is front for the Odessa Group in a gambit to get to him (this felt a little thin). While Nazis always make for an easy villain, the idea that fascism remaining a malignant and dangerous force in the world sadly still resonates. 

Lending even more dramatic weight to the episode are guest stars R.G. Armstrong and Phillip Baker Hall. Both serve as stabilizing figures who suggest the goals of the group aren't necessarily nefarious. In an effective closing scene Baker receives the true cross and tucks it away in his bookcase, no dialogue, just effective non-verbal acting.

The denouement feels like an homage to The Godfather with the group exacting righteous justice on the Odessa Group. Now reunited, not unlike the Allies who came together in WWII to defeat fascism, the fissure within the group appears to be healed - for the moment.  

An intriguing story, "Roosters" steered Millennium into the apocalyptic momentum of the second season. At the same time, the story of Frank and his family gets lost in the shuffle, placing the series at a creative crossroads.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Millennium Season 2: Episode 15: "Owls"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Air Date: March 6, 1998

Guest Star: R. G. Armstrong (The Old Man)

"Owls" was the first of a two-part story that would conclude with "Roosters." In full world building mode, the episode brings to light the split within the Millennium Group. The divide goes back to the group's origins, a debate over how the apocalypse will occur. The Owls believe there will be a disaster brought on by the natural world (secularists), while the Roosters believe it will be a theological event, the return of Christ. Fast paced and never boring, "Owls" borders on narrative incoherence at times, yet takes the series mythology to another level. 

The Magoffin of the episode is no less than the actual cross of the crucifixion. In Damascus, there's a shootout over the cross between the Owls and Roosters which inflames the inner turmoil. It's believed that whoever possesses the cross will be invincible - very Raiders of the Lost Ark in concept. In addition, descendants of the Nazis are also involved and seeking the cross, further complicating the group's history with Occultism. Meanwhile, Catherine accepts a counseling job with a company that's apparently a front for Nazis.

Meanwhile, Frank remains suspicious about the group and has another confrontation with Peter, clashing over the Group's increasingly intrusive and secretive methods. Peter expels Lara from the group when he discovers her name on the list of a Rooster. 

Between all the cloak and dagger going on, there's a set piece when a group member is assassinated while driving set to America's "Horse with No Name." A cool sequence, but with a character we're completely unfamiliar with so it lacks any emotional impact. Then a fake cross is left with him, adding to the narrative confusion.

"Owls" exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of Millennium's second season. All the intrigue involving history and mythology seems to anticipate the potboilers of Dan Brown and more unnervingly the mass proliferation of bad historical analysis on shows like Ancient Aliens. Yet the promise of a truly epic story arc yields a steady fascination even though it feels like the main characters are getting lost in all the intricate plotting.